CARI: Center for Applied Rural Innovation


Date of this Version

August 2001


Published by the Center for Applied Rural Innovation, University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Copyright © 2001 by J. Allen, R. Vogt, and S. Cordes.


Nebraska’s economy growth has slowed this past year, and recent reports show that some of Nebraska’s counties are the poorest in the nation. How have these changes affected rural Nebraskans? How do rural Nebraskans perceive their quality of life? Do their perceptions differ by community size, the region in which they live, or their occupation? How have they responded to the higher cost of living? Are they able to meet their financial goals?

This report details 3,199 responses to the 2001 Nebraska Rural Poll, the sixth annual effort to understand rural Nebraskans’ perceptions. Respondents were asked a series of questions regarding their general well-being, their satisfaction with specific aspects of well-being, and how they are responding to the higher cost of living. Trends for the well-being questions are examined by comparing data from the five previous polls to this year’s results. For all questions, comparisons are made among different respondent subgroups, i.e., comparisons by age, occupation, region, etc. Based on these analyses, some key findings emerged:

Rural Nebraskans are more negative about their current situation than they were last year. This year, 32 percent state they are better off than they were five years ago; however, this compares to 40 percent in 2000. This is the lowest percentage reported during a six-year period. Nineteen percent of the respondents say they are worse off than five years ago, while 16 percent felt this way last year. The percent responding that their situation remained about the same increased from 44 percent last year to 49 percent in 2001.

When asked about the future, fewer respondents assert they will be better off ten years from now, as compared to last year’s results. This year, 34 percent state they will be better off ten years from now, compared to 38 percent last year. The proportion responding they will be worse off increased from 18 percent to 21 percent. The proportion saying they will be about the same in ten years remained steady at 45 percent.

Farmers and ranchers are less optimistic than persons with other occupations about their current situation. Only 24 percent of the farmers and ranchers state they are better off compared to five years ago. In comparison, 50 percent of those with professional occupations say they are better off.

Manual laborers are more likely to believe that people are powerless to control their own lives. Just over one-half (51%) of the manual laborers either strongly agree or agree with the statement that “...people are powerless to control their own lives.” In contrast, only 21 percent of persons with professional occupations agree with the statement.

Respondents report being most satisfied with their family, their marriage, and their religion/spirituality. The items receiving the highest proportion of “very dissatisfied” responses include financial security during retirement, current income level and job opportunities.

Manual laborers are more likely than those with other occupations to express dissatisfaction with their job opportunities. Sixty percent of the manual laborers are dissatisfied with their job opportunities, compared to only 32 percent of the farmers and ranchers.

At least one-third of rural Nebraskans have experienced the following economic hardships during the past year: using savings to meet household expenses, delaying a family vacation because of a lack of money, and being unable to contribute any money toward retirement because the money was needed for everyday household expenses. Twenty percent of rural Nebraskans have taken another job to help meet household expenses during the past year. Seventeen percent couldn’t pay the full amount of their utility bills, 15 percent were unable to afford needed medical care, and seven percent were unable to purchase needed food.

The groups most likely to have experienced many of the hardships listed include: younger respondents, persons living in the North Central region of the state, respondents with lower income levels, females, persons with lower educational levels, the divorced or separated respondents, and the laborers.

Sixty-two percent of rural Nebraskans believe their household income has not kept up with the increased cost of living. Eighteen percent believe it has increased at the same rate as the cost of living, eight percent feel their income has increased faster than the cost of living, and 12 percent are not sure.

Just over one-half of rural Nebraskans say they have just enough to make ends meet at the end of each month. Fifty-two percent say they have just enough to make ends meet, 35 percent end up with money left over at the end of the month, and 13 percent say there is not enough money to make ends meet.

The vast majority of rural Nebraskans say they always had enough food to eat during the past year. Ninety-two percent said they always had enough food, seven percent said there were a few times when they didn’t have enough to eat, and one percent said there were many times when they didn’t have enough to eat.

Younger respondents were more likely than older respondents to say there were a few times when they didn’t have enough to eat last year. Twenty percent of the persons between the ages of 19 and 29 said there were a few times when they didn’t have enough to eat, compared to only three percent of the persons age 65 and older.